“Time to get up,” N whispered in her ear.
She didn’t move. He tried again.
“Babe, Hil, time to wake up.”
He kissed her cheek and wrapped his arm around her.
“What time is it?” she managed from the pillow.
“It’s 5 A.M. Taxi will be here in a half hour.”
She didn’t move.
“Come on.” He rubbed her back, making her want to stay there even more.
“I can’t. Just tell me what it is we’re doing and where we’re going and I’ll get up.”
Then it hit her- he had planned something!! He had actually made plans without her knowledge and wanted to surprise her. She was smiling now. But it was 5 A.M.
“I’m serious, you need to get up. If we miss this cab we could miss it all together.”
She moaned and rolled out of bed completely naked. She managed to make it to the bathroom and flinched as she adjusted to the bright, fluorescent lights. Maybe one drink too many last night. Her curly hair was everywhere. How could she possibly be ready in 30 minutes? She quickly showered, to get the bar smell off of her, and brushed on some mascara. She didn’t have time to wash her hair, so she just swooped half of it back with a clip. Not too bad. Not great, but not too bad either. Now clothes. It was early morning, so it was cool outside. N was already dressed and ready. He sat in a chair looking out the window at the city below. He looked so handsome. She felt an overwhelming urge to drag him back to bed. She walked over and sat on his lap and kissed him. A deep, open mouth kiss that would have normally lead to more. He moaned and grabbed both of her arms and stood her up. He was insistent on making this taxi. Who in their right mind plans something for 5:30 in the morning?
She finally threw on her jeans and a white tee-shirt, grabbed a sweater as the clock turned to 5:30. They held hands down the hall, and he kissed her on the elevator. The taxi was waiting outside the apartment building. This is when H actually started to get excited. They drove through the city, got on the 405, and before they knew it, they were in Aurora, Oregon. As they pulled into a field, H read the words Portland Rose Hot Air Balloon on the side of a box truck.
“N, you wouldn’t actually book a hot air balloon ride, would you? After I told you I’m deathly afraid of heights? You wouldn’t do that, right?”
“Surprise.” He was very excited and it showed all over his smiling face.
They paid for the cab, walked out into the field and were instructed to take a piece of colored fabric from the truck, and walk until it was stretched across what looked like an acre of land. H saw a man pull out a wicker basket from the back of the truck. Other couples were doing what they were told, helping to put this monstrosity together, but she stood shaking.
Her chest was tight, her legs were numb. She could feel herself getting lightheaded. She started having flashbacks to those red-eye flights from Portland to Dallas, Dallas to Pittsburgh; Portland to San Francisco, San Francisco to Dallas, Dallas to Pittsburgh; Portland to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis; Portland to Denver; all alone and absolutely terrified as the plane shook over the Rocky Mountain Range. She looked at N. He was beaming. She cringed. She was sick to her stomach. The entire field started to spin. She started to think about possibly placing one foot in the weaved basket, and then the other. If she could just visualize herself there, getting off the ground with N by her side, and landing safely, maybe she would be okay. But there was the whole, what’s going to happen once the balloon is off the ground? She started to feel the sick rising in her stomach. Her palms were sweaty. Her forehead was starting to pound. The field was spinning faster and faster. She looked at N.
“N, I’m not doing this. I’m telling you, I’m not going up in that thing. I can see through the freaking basket. I’m not going.”
“Relax, it’s supposed to look like that. It’s fine. You’re going.” He smiled. But the look on her face made him think she might not go.
In a matter of minutes, everything was together- the fabric, the nuts and bolts, the basket- and the balloon was standing tall, heat being thrust into it, ready for passengers.
“Okay everyone, it’s time to load up! You’re about to become members of a very special club!” Our balloon crew man, Derek, was eager to get in the air.
“Okay, well, I’m not going,” H said. Everyone just stared at her from inside the balloon. They had all crawled over the side and into the basket. Derek looked at her incredulously and said, “I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and I’ve never had anyone not go! Hop in, you’ll love it!”
All eyes on her, even N.
“No, I’m not going in that thing.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the middle of that grass.
“Well, what do you want to do?” Asked Derrick, “You can’t stay here.”
“She can come with me! If she doesn’t want to go, she can come with me,” a woman driving a ford pick-up yelled from the truck window behind her. “I follow the balloon and pick them up when they land. If you want, you can ride with me.” The woman was talking directly to H, and she was very grateful.
H looked N. He was furious. But that didn’t stop her from running to the truck, opening the passenger side door, and climbing in.
“Wait, you’re going?” N asked incredulously.
He ran after her in the silver pick-up.
“Yeah, I’m not going up in that thing.” She felt better just saying it! Whew. Now she felt guilt. “You go, you’ll love it. You love flying. I’ll see you back on the ground.”
His face fell even further as he realized she wasn’t going to be persuaded. Then he got mad. He had spent an obscene amount of money on what he thought was a once in a lifetime surprise for the woman he loved, and it had backfired. Maybe she really did hate flying. I guess this was one of the downfalls of only knowing each other for two months.
Derek stood in the middle of the two of them, watching this girl drive away with Sarah, and her poor guy climb into the basket of Derek’s favorite balloon, alone. I’ll let him pull the cord, he thought to himself.
H had a great time talking with Nancy, the woman who drove the truck. She thought it was great that H didn’t go up in the balloon, and H was happy to see some of the Oregon landscape outside the city. They went to a couple farms and enjoyed a coffee. And the entire time, she could look up and see N in the clouds above.
N was in the sky by himself, pulling the cord that pushes heat into the enormous balloon above. He was angry with himself for thinking this would be a more romantic morning, but he couldn’t deny the spectacular views. He would certainly never forget the day.
An hour later they were back on the ground. Once the trucks had been loaded up with everything (including the balloon), they headed to Derek’s farm. There waiting for them was a champagne brunch. Derek, who had done this at least 100 times before, made a toast to the new members of the balloon club, and to the one person who defied 15 years of reason. H raised her glass and smiled. She had shown N that she wasn’t perfect, and allowed herself forgiveness for her fault. If this relationship was going to last, they needed to truly know each other. Flying was H’s deal breaker. At the very least, today had shown N the truth about herself. They were both better for it.